Ungentle Goodnights uses the records of the United States Naval Asylum (later the United States Naval Home), a residence for disabled and elderly sailors and Marines established by the U.S. government, to describe the lives of the 541 men who were admitted there as lifetime residents between 1831 and 1866. The records of the Naval Asylum are an especially rich source for discovering these lower-deck lives because would-be residents were required to submit summaries of their naval careers as part of the admission process. Using these and related records, published and manuscript, it is possible to reconstruct the veterans’ lives from their teenage years (and sometimes earlier) until their deaths. Previous historians who have written about the pre-Civil War naval enlisted force have depended on published nineteenth-century sailor and Marine autobiographies, which may not accurately reflect the realities of enlisted life. Ungentle Goodnights seeks to discover the life experiences of real Marines and naval sailors, not a few of whom were misbehaving, crafty, and engaging individuals who feature prominently in the book.
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